“Colors” that’s the name of the tune the bugler blows of a morning when the color guard raises the flag and of the evening when it’s taken down. Then with swift military precision, it’s folded into a tri-corner, tucked under the arm pit of the “corporal of the guard” while he marches off the podium.
Called an Ensign on board ship, it is also known as our national flag. When flown upside down, is used as a “distress signal.”
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, living on a military base in Guantanamo where my Dad was stationed, military etiquette and protocol was of the utmost importance. Everything was done by the book.
For Christmas in 1960, Santa brought me two Bobbsey Twin books that got me interested in reading. After I finished reading them, Dad got me a copy of “The Blue Jackets Manual”, the enlisted men’s bible. In it was the Enlisted Men’s guide to military life.
General orders, how to fold your clothes, make your bed, military drills, oral commands, military protocol, how to tie knots and the do’s and don’ts, essential for life above and below deck.
One Saturday morning before a monthly inspection at 1300 hours, Dad was wearing his dress whites; he and I went by the barber shop to get our ears lowered. It was a father and son thing, we did it every Saturday. Three sailors in their dress whites passed us going in the opposite direction. They must have been “reserves.” Instead of saluting Dad, they turned their heads the other way as if they didn’t see him and walked past.
My Dad was a Mustanger, he came up through the ranks, in the “Blackshoe Navy”. He once told me that below decks is where he grew up. When he walked, he looked like Popeye the Sailor, strolling with his arms bent swinging from side to side. He even had a tattoo in the same place, an eagle with open wings carrying a torpedo in its claws.
No telling what these three sailors had on their mind that morning. I am sure that tangling with my Dad never entered their heads. Dad barked out “Attention on deck.”
The guys stopped walking away from us and turned around. The biggest guy was pretty good sized; he looked down at Dad and said “Are you talking to me, whattaya want?”
Dad pointed to his shoulder boards that showed his rank of Ensign and told the big guy that when you see a man wearing these, you salute and you hold that salute until it’s returned. He pointed at the flag waving from the top of the flagpole in front of the barber shop. He said “When you salute me, you are saluting that flag and all that it stands for. If I let you disrespect me, then I’m letting you disrespect that flag.” He said “I can’t tell you how many men, better than you, fought and died for that flag. I want you to stand at attention and salute me and salute that flag until I tell you to carry on.
The three men were wearing green chevrons on their whites. This signified that they weren’t Black shoe, but “Airedales”, (a different Navy altogether) probably off the aircraft carrier “Forestall” that was in port. The three of them formed a semi-circle around Dad. The big guy in the middle told Dad that he wasn’t stationed on this base and didn’t have to salute officers of other commands and that if he wasn’t wearing those shoulder boards he would teach him a lesson about being a smart ass.
No sooner did he say that, than Dad started peeling off his shirt and handed it to me to hold for him. Dad told him he was fixing to get his wish. Then he turned to the three enlisted men and jerked his thumb towards the dumpster and said “Now is your chance to be a big shot, bring your buddies with you. Let’s step behind this dumpster and we’ll forget about rank for a minute.”
Thinking back, I had to of been 8 years old, because when I was 9, my brothers and I accidentally set fire to that dumpster and the Navy Exchange practicing with Molotov Cocktails. After that, they moved the dumpster to the other side of the building by the galley.
This whole shebang didn’t last more than about 20 seconds. Dad always told me that it isn’t always the size of the man in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the man. The enlisted man was a bully at heart, using his size to intimidate folks. It didn’t work on Dad. They squared off, the big man held his fists up to box like old timey boxers do and Dad sailed in with a punch to the man’s gut, when he doubled up Dad caught him right in the nose with an over hand right and it was over. He went down like a ton of lead.
Dad turned to the two onlookers, rubbing his fist and asked “Who wants to be next?” They both said “Not me, it was him” pointing to their fallen comrade. Dad helped his bloody foe up, brushed him off, and gave him his handkerchief to stop the flow of blood coming from his nose. He told the three men that he wanted them to stand at attention and salute that flag while he got his haircut. Then he put his uniform shirt back on. He told them that he would be watching them from the inside of the barber shop. He said “Don’t make me come back out here and take my shirt off again.”
We went inside the barber shop. I was first, I wore my crew cut proudly, I wanted to be just like my Dad. When the Barber finished he dusted my neck with talcum powder and shook the cut hair off of the smock with a loud pop. Just about that time, Admiral O’Neal entered, nodding to every one inside and pointed to the three men outside standing at attention and saluting the flag. He said “A fine display of Military Justice no doubt, making boys into men, I love it.”
Rank has its privileges; Dad stood at attention when the Admiral entered the barber shop, he didn’t salute because it was indoors but he sat back down in his chair and let the Admiral go ahead of him for his haircut. The Admiral and the barber talked about how the carrier that was in port was hooked up to the base water supply, desalinating water from the ocean to make drinking water for the base, since “Fidel” was up to his “shenanigans” again. When the Admiral’s haircut was finished, the barber held up a bottle of greenish liquid and asked him if he was ready for some “Foo Foo Juice” to make him smell better. The Admiral said “Hell no, my wife will swear up and down that I’ve been in a French Whorehouse.” When the Admiral left the Barber Shop he walked a circle around the three sailors saluting the flag in the hot boiling sun. He smiled, shook his head and walked away without saying anything.
The barber swept the loose ends of the Admiral’s hair off the chair and said “Who’s next?”
Dad stood up, took his place in the chair with his back towards the front of the building, but was continuously keeping the wayward sailors in his vision by staring into the mirror. When the barber finished, he grabbed the same bottle of green liquid and asked Dad if he wanted a shot of smell good. “Foo Foo Juice?” Dad told him “Sure thing, go ahead, my wife ain’t never been in no French whorehouse.
When Dad left the barber shop, he walked up to the sailors still standing at attention, staring at the flagpole and saluting our flag. He stood at attention, saluted the flag, then turned to the sailors and returning their salute and said “Carry on men, as you were.” He told them to remember, “that when you salute me, you are saluting that flag and America, for which is stands.”